Armed Forces

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Tony Greenstein’s Review of Exhibition and Talks by Pro-Palestinian Arab/Israeli Artist Gil Mualem-Doron

Yesterday Tony Greenstein put up a piece about an art exhibition on the plight of the Palestinians by an Arab/Israeli artist, Dr. Gil Mualem-Doron. Titled ‘Cry the Beloved Country’ after a 1953 article in the Israeli paper Maariv by its editor, Ezriel Karlebach. This compared the new legislation then passed against the Palestinians to the infamous Nuremberg laws the Nazis passed against the Jews. The article took its title in turn from the 1948 book by the South African artist Alan Paton on the rise of that country’s apartheid regime. The exhibition also features a conversation between the Palestinian historian Dr Salman Abu Sitta, Mualem-Doron, Eitan Bronstein Aparicio, the founder of the NGO Zochrot, somebody called Decolonizer and the exhibition’s curator, Ghazaleh Zogheib. It includes photographs of some of the ‘present refugees’ – Palestinians, who fled or were forced off their land during the Nakba of 1948, and who are officially regarded as foreigners in their own country among other photographic and artistic installations. There is also a screening of the film To Gaza and Back Home, by Aparicio and Decolonizer about the Arab village of Ma’in and its destruction. It was due to open on the 2nd April, but this was impossible due to the lockdown. It’s now showing online until sometime in September, probably the 27th, when it will open at the P21 Gallery in London.

Tony’s article quotes the exhibition, which says that

“Cry, the beloved country” is a nightmarish series of room installations and photography works dealing with the links between Great Britain, Israel and Palestine and depicting the catastrophic results of this unholy conundrum.  Built as a journey into “the heart of darkness” the exhibition is intended to negate many Israelis and Zionists supporters’ view of Israel as a “villa in the jungle”.

The photographs include several of an actor dressed in KKK robes, a Jewish prayer shawl and waving an Israeli flag, saluting Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. It was taken in 2017 during the centennial celebrations of the promulgation of the Balfour Doctrine, in which Britain backed the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. This was very much against the wishes of the British Jewish community, who did not want their Britishness questioned through the foundation of a state for which they had no loyalty and no desire to live in.

This is obviously an extremely provocative piece. I have no doubt that the very people and organizations, who scream ‘anti-Semitism’ at any criticism of Israel, no matter how reasonable and justified, would go berserk about this. It comes very close to one of the IHRA’s examples of anti-Semitism: the comparison of Jews to Nazis. But it is a reasonable comment on the Israeli state and its present government, composed of Likud and various parties from the Israeli religious right. Groups of settlers do launch attacks on Palestinian villages, like the Klan lynched Blacks in America. Those campaign for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians similarly claim a religious basis for their crimes, just like the Klan claimed to be defending White, Protestant Christians from Jews, Blacks, Roman Catholics and Communists. And Tony himself has shown all too often how the present Israeli government and British Zionist activists have very strong links to the real far right groups. Jonathan Hoffman, who has frequently protested and demonstrated against pro-Palestinian exhibitions and meetings over here, shouting anti-Semitism, has done so in the company of Paul Besser, the former intelligence officer of Britain First, and members of the EDL. The event’s supported by Arts Council England and the Hub Collective. I think they should be commended for supporting such an important exhibition, despite the abuse and demands for cancellation the organizers of similar events receive.

The Israelis were due to begin their annexation of 1/3 of the West Bank today, in blatant contravention of international law. The Likud regime is zealously pursuing its persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians with the active support of right-wing American Christian groups like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. It does so against the wishes and passionate efforts of very many Jews and Jewish organisations in America, Britain and Israel itself. The latter includes the veterans’ group, Breaking the Silence, which works to reveal the atrocities in which its members have personally participated, and the Zionist humanitarian group, B’Tsalem. The supporters of this ethnic cleansing, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Chief Rabbinate, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the various ‘Friends of Israel’ groups in the political parties, are doing their best to present Israel as synonymous with Judaism. This is in breach of the IHRA’s own guidelines, which state that it is anti-Semitic to claim that Jews are more loyal to another country, or hold them responsible as a whole for Israel’s actions. As these atrocities continue, more young Jewish people are becoming critical of Israel and the Zionist organisations themselves were frightened by the British public’s disgust at the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Hence the foundation of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the revival of Paole Zion, now renamed the Jewish Labour Movement, in the Labour Party. It was all to promote public support for Israel and quash reasoned, justified criticism.

It is why exhibitions like this continue to remain important and necessary, whatever the witch-hunters do to shout them down and silence them.

For more information on the exhibition and the individual pieces, go to:

https://azvsas.blogspot.com/2020/06/visit-cry-beloved-country-palestinian.html

Lobster: Integrity Initiative Working to Privatise NHS

Remember the Integrity Initiative? That was the subsidiary of the Institute for Statecraft that was found to be a private enterprise propaganda outfit working with the cyberwarfare section of the SAS. It was set up after former New Labour PM Gordon Brown read a piece about the IRD’s activities during the Cold War and thought it was a good idea. IRD was the branch of the British secret services that was supposed to counter Soviet propaganda. It did this, but also branched out into smearing Labour MPs like the late Tony Benn as Communist agents and IRA sympathizers. The Integrity Initiative was caught doing the same, spreading lies about Jeremy Corbyn and a host of European politicos, officials and senior military staff because it and its network of hacks decided they were too close to Putin.

Robin Ramsay has more to say about the II in his ‘View from the Bridge’ column in the recent edition of Lobster, issue 80. He makes the point that superficially the II would be acceptable if all it did was counter Russian propaganda. He argues that few on the left seem to accept that the country really is a kleptocracy that murders its opponents at home and abroad, and reminds his readers that one of the watchwords of the old left was ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’. This is right, but history and the career of the II itself has shown to date that British counterpropaganda goes well beyond this into operations that seriously compromise democratic politics at home, and frequently overthrow it abroad. Like the coup where British intelligence worked with the CIA to overthrow Iran’s last democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq.

But II isn’t just working to smear decent, respectable left-wing politicos like Corbyn. It’s now attacking one of the fundamental modern British institutions: the NHS. Among the hacks recruited by the II is the American journo, Anne Applebaum, who has written for the Economist and the Spectator, amongst other rags. But the II also includes a subgroup on NHS reform, which has nothing to do with Russian propaganda. Ramsay instead argues that its purpose is instead to counter opponents of NHS reform. In other words, it’s been set up to promote NHS privatisation. Which means it has a neoliberal agenda.

See his section ‘Ah yes, the USA as moral leader’ at

Click to access lob80-view-from-the-bridge.pdf

Given the extreme right-wing politics of British counterpropaganda operations, this is almost certainly right.

Which means that at least part of the British secret state is lying to us to support the Tories’ and New Labour privatisation of the NHS.

 

Trump’s Space Force Breaks International Law

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/06/2020 - 3:08am in

Remember when Trump announced a few months ago that he was setting up a space force to protect America from attack from that direction? He was immediately criticised because such a force would break the current international treaties governing the exploration and use of space. Mitchell R. Sharpe discusses these treaties in his book Satellites and Probes: The Development of Unmanned Spaceflight (London: Aldus Books 1970).

Sharpe writes

As the tempo of space exploration increases and more nations become involved through international agreements, it is obvious that problems in international law will ultimately arise. In this field, the UN took an early interest and is now the principal organization for studying and proposing space law. After manned space flight began in 1961, the General Assembly laid down some brief principles of a space code. On December 13, 1963, these were expanded; and an international treaty based upon them was signed in Washington, Moscow, and London on January 27, 1967. In brief, the treaty states that space exploration is available to all nations equally and that there will be no use of space for military purposes. Other international agreement provide that there will be no annexation of other planets by Earth powers and that astronauts are to be returned to their own nations in case they land by accident in other countries.

Pp. 30-1 (my emphasis).

The book notes that international relations in space have been strained, but nevertheless is optimistic about future cooperation between countries in the High Frontier.

The road to harmonious international cooperation in space research and exploration is not a smooth one. It has been strewn with obstacles of mutual suspicion, and distrust through conflicting political ideologies, outright chauvinism, cumbersome coordinating organizations, periodic temperature changes in the Cold War. However, the progression has been steadily forward despite these momentary checks…

As the second decade of the Space Age dawned, Man was beginning to realize the space, in its infinity, precludes all petty approaches to its exploration and eventual exploitation. International cooperation in both seemed an imperative for the ensuing decade, and the signs of a growing effort toward this were encouraging. (p. 31).

By the time of the publication of Michael Freeman’s Space Traveller’s Handbook (London: Hamlyn 1979), international relations had become much colder and the prospects for cooperation much less optimistic. The joint American-Soviet space mission of 1975, which saw astronauts from the two nations link up in orbit and exchange greetings was then four years in the past. The new Cold War that would dominate the global situation until the Gorbachev era and the fall of Communism was just beginning. The Space Traveller’s Handbook is a fictionalized treatment of rocketry and space exploration using the framework of a history book from 2061. The section on space law makes it plain that international legislation concerning space is extremely fragile and expects it to be broken. This is laid out in the section’s final two paragraphs.

International law is no law.

The most unsatisfactory aspect of the whole legal question in space is that the effectiveness of international legislation depends entirely on the good will of nations. Not all nations are signatory to all treaties, some elements of international space law are plainly at odds with the national law of some countries. and in the final analysis a nation can simply ignore the findings of the International Court of Space.

Basically, international law, on Earth as well as in space, is a conflict of law, the confrontation of two nations, each with its own set of internal laws. Legislation must be by treaty, and legal disputes tend to follow diplomatic channels in the first instance. The setting up of the International Court of Space by the ISA was an attempt to regulate disputes, but its only means of enforcing its judgements is to present its recommendations to the ISA. Essentially, the only punishment is sanction, [such as was applied to Rhodesia after UDI]. This is only effective if a sufficient number of nations agree to undertake it. Even criminal cases against individuals must in the end be referred to national courts. (p. 49).

The ISA and the International Court of Space, or at least the latter, are fictitious, and part of the book’s future history. It’s interesting, though, that the book predicted it would be set up ten years ago in 2010. I am not aware that any institution like it actually has.

Trump’s projected space force clearly is in breach of international law, and it seems to bear out Freeman’s prediction that it would eventually prove to be toothless. However, he hasn’t set it up just yet, and it remains to be seen whether it will actually become reality. If it does, I fear it will lead to a disastrous arms race in outer space, a race that may well bring us once again to the brink of nuclear armageddon as the Earth-based arms race did far too many times in the past.

For humanity’s sake, let us follow the vision of the late, great comedian Bill Hicks. Hicks used to end his show by stating that if the world spent what it does on armaments instead on peaceful projects, we could explore and colonize space and feed our world.

No one need starve, and we could go forth in peace forever.

Meanwhile, Trump’s announcement has provided yet more subject matter for the satirists. Netflix is launching a new comedy series, Space Force. Here’s the trailer from YouTube.

I think The Office mentioned in the title credits must be the American version of the show, rather than the British original made infamous by Ricky Gervaise. It stars Steve Carell and Lisa Kudrow, who older readers may remember as Phoebe in the ’90s comedy series, Friends.

 

Why So Few American Muslims Serve in the US Military

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/06/2020 - 1:22am in

With long and seemingly endless conflicts across the Middle East and North Africa, the United States Armed Forces is constantly struggling to meet recruitment targets for its wars. One group that is greatly underrepresented in our armed forces is Muslim Americans; fewer than 10,000 troops list their faith as Islam, accounting for just 0.3 percent of personnel. This is despite large and active recruitment drives to hire Muslims – particularly Arab Americans – to serve as intelligence officers, translators and in other key roles in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Muslims are among the fastest growing minority groups in the United States, their numbers increasing from 2.35 million in 2007 to 3.45 million in 2017, around 1.1 percent of the total U.S. population. Yet, if the military genuinely wishes to recruit more Muslims, it has been slow to accommodate their needs. Very few bases have Islamic prayer services, and only five of the Army’s roughly 2,900 chaplains are imams. For decades, Muslim soldiers were forced to shave their beards and made to eat meals containing non-Halal meat and even pork, although this has begun to change.

However, there is more to the question of why so few Muslims serve in the military than simply a lack of tolerance. There has, for a long time been a strong strain of anti-war, anti-imperialist sentiment within American Islam, as Dawud Walid, Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, explained to MintPress News.

If you go back to the Nation of Islam’s days, which includes Muhammad Ali resisting the draft, many Muslims have looked at the interventions of the American military abroad as being immoral and conflicting with the teachings of peace and justice within Islam. So there is a long tradition of African-American Muslims in particular being skeptical of how America exerts its military strength abroad,” he said.

 

9/11

The majority of Americans do not know even a single Muslim, according to a survey by Pew Research. However, the events of one day – September 11, 2001 – put Islam on the national agenda like no other. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Islamic groups immediately denounced Osama Bin Laden’s attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., suspicion of America’s Muslim population – or anyone who looked passably Middle Eastern – rocketed across the country. “Post-9/11 America isn’t exactly the most welcoming place for Muslims,” Walid said. President Bush famously announced that the United States was on a new “crusade” in the Middle East, and the heightened levels of covert and overt hostility from the state led increasing numbers of American Muslims to question the military’s role in the world.

Affraz Mohammed

Affraz Mohammed, right, is pictured in his dress blues with another Marine. Photo | Courtesy | Affraz Mohammed

For Muslims already serving in the armed forces, that day seemed to change everything. “Discrimination got crazy worse after 9/11,” said Affraz Mohammed, “You served your country honourably, you had great positions in the military. And now, here it is that you are being discriminated against by your own country.” Mohammed, a native of New Jersey, joined the Marines in 1997 due to a lack of opportunities elsewhere. “In America, people say we have choices. But not many have lots of choices. In the ghetto, how much choice do you really have,” he asked MintPress. Born in Trinidad and with Indian Muslim ancestry, he served honorably for seven years, rising to the rank of sergeant.

 

On trial for my religion

Like many veterans, he suffered greatly from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But unlike others, his trauma was not from combat: it was from how he was treated at home. In 2002 another Marine pressured him into buying his AK-47 assault rifle. He had originally come to (legally) buy a handgun, but the Marine was insistent he take the Kalashnikov instead, and for an extremely low price. As soon as he accepted, he was swarmed by government agents and charged with buying an illegal, fully automatic weapon. He was stripped naked, tortured and held incommunicado.

His Marine-corps appointed lawyer told him to plead guilty, but he resisted and the case went to trial, where he was found unanimously innocent. The weapon he bought appears not to have been fully automatic anyway, while prosecutors had filed documents listing two different serial numbers for the gun, raising further suspicions about the validity of their case. While he was officially on trial for an illegal weapons charge, he maintains that his real crime, in the eyes of the establishment, was “being a brown-skinned Muslim with the last name Mohammed.”

Many of his fellow Marines were not happy with him, and rumors spread that he was a terrorist. He was harassed, woken up in the middle of the night, called “Mohammed the Taliban Marine,” and fellow Marines constantly warned that he would be the victim of a friendly fire incident. He left the service in 2004, having never been sent to the Middle East. Since then, he claims that the police, Department of Homeland Security, FBI and other agencies constantly harass and try to provoke him, informing his neighbors and relatives about his supposed danger. He also told MintPress he has been blacklisted by several agencies and is flagged as a risk when flying.

Affraz Mohammed

Affraz Mohammed, holding rifle, is pictured during a Marine Corps training exercise. Photo | Courtesy | Affraz Mohammed

“I stood up to the empire that everybody is afraid of. I stood up against the highest government agencies all by myself and came out on top. That inspires people to stand up for their rights, if they get to know about my story. So what they’re trying to do is make sure I don’t have a positive story or a positive image,” he said, when asked why he believes the government is still going after him. Despite this, he remains proud of his service and fiercely loyal to the Marines and says his training helped him through his ordeal.

When asked if Muslims are welcome in the military, Mohammed was blunt, “They’re not,” he said. “Because of the current situation. If we look back at history, during the Second World War, even the Japanese-Americans serving in the armed forces were being scrutinized. So if we look at our past, it has a lot of information; any time a military is fighting against another country, those people automatically become enemies.”

 

Endless Wars

By the “current situation,” Mohammed is referring to the 19-year occupation of Afghanistan, the 17-year occupation of Iraq, and multiple conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, the large majority of which are Muslim-majority nations. Even today, the Trump administration continues to increase tensions with Iran, sparking fears of another long and bitter war.

“My brother did 20 years in the Navy, and he had it worse than me. When the Iraq War started in 2003, and his peers were saying ‘put him in jail because we are going to kill his people.’ So the racism is there and it is brutal,” Mohammed added. For so many American Muslims, the prospect of going to war with their own country of origin or that of their close friends is unpalatable, to say the least.

Walid, a member of the Michigan Muslim Community Council Imams Committee, explained that,

For those Muslims who are immigrants or children of immigrants and are underrepresented [in the military], most likely feel a sense of alienation from the American military for similar reasons. If we look at the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians that were killed during that time, and the use of drone bombings that killed high percentages of civilians and the extrajudicial assassinations via American drones; these are factors that I believe have stopped many American Muslims from joining the U.S. military.”

Inside the armed forces, Muslims are often suspected of being disloyal and often are the targets of their superiors’ prejudices. Last year, Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos was forced by a senior non-commissioned officer to remove her hijab while at a briefing. She had previously complained of being made to cook pork and of being labeled a “terrorist” by another soldier. In 2016, Marine Corps recruit Raheel Siddiqui leapt to his death after being constantly hazed and bullied by drill instructors during training. One instructor reportedly labeled him a “terrorist” and had slapped him a number of times. He was also known to have forced other Muslim recruits into industrial clothes dryers and turned the machine on. While the official verdict was suicide, Siddiqui’s family contested the decision. Mohammed suffered similar treatment at training, with instructors punishing him more than others, attempting to sow division between him and his peers, encouraging others to fight him, calling him a “towel head,” and placing sand around his bed to “make him feel more at home.” As stated previously, Mohammed is originally from the Caribbean island of Trinidad, and of Indian extraction, but knowledge of geography is not many Americans’ strong suit.

Walid suggested that if Siddiqui had been from a different religion or race, the story would have become a “national scandal” and there would have been a senate committee hearing. But, “when it comes to Muslims, the anti-Muslim bigotry is overt and subtle,” he said.

 

The “reality of systemic racism”

When the parents of a Humayun Khan, a fallen Muslim-American soldier spoke up against Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, he mocked them, implying Khan’s mother was silent as a result of Islam’s backward practices and repressive attitude towards women. While he scandalized many in the punditry class, a majority of Americans supported the ban on entry to the United States, such is the level of demonization of the religion in media and public life. 1 in 9 Americans say they would refuse to accept a Muslim as a neighbor and 41 percent believe that Islam encourages violence more than other faiths, with nearly two-thirds of Republicans polled saying that a great deal of Muslims are anti-American, and 16 percent saying almost all are. The same survey found that Americans are far more likely to hold Islamophobic beliefs if they do not know any Muslims personally.


Khizr and Khan Ghazala speak at the 2016 DNC in Philadelphia in front of a photo of their son, Marine Corps veteran Humayun Khan. Photo | Reuters

As a result, Muslim Americans are much more likely to hold liberal economic, political and cultural views, with only 13 percent identifying with the Republican Party at all. Three-quarters say they face a lot of discrimination living in the U.S. “I don’t think it is limited to the military at all,” Walid told MintPress. “I think it goes back deeper beyond religion to an issue of systemic racism that takes place in America. Muslims are a faith group, but we are predominantly seen as people of color and non-white in the American imagination. And the reality is that non-white people in America have never been treated equally in American institutions. That is the historical reality.”

There is perhaps no better example of this than Minnesota Congressperson Ilhan Omar. As a black, African, refugee, hijab-wearing Muslim democratic socialist woman, her existence is a bingo card for bigots. A study published in November in the Social Science Research Journal found that roughly half the tweets mentioning her contained some kind of hate speech.

Omar has drawn public attention as an outspoken critic of the police’s role in the killing of George Floyd. However, less well-known is how authorities’ surveillance of Muslims contributed to his death. Since the days of the Nation of Islam, black Muslims have been targeted by law enforcement and the secret services as an enemy of the state. Minneapolis has one of the largest populations of black Muslims in the United States, due in part to its large Somali community. Under Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism program, Minneapolis was plied with cash and equipment to surveil supposedly radical extremist groups, leading to a situation where blackness became to be seen by police as a crime in itself. As Venessa Taylor argued in The Progressive, state surveillance of Muslims “paved the way for George Floyd’s murder.”

While the U.S. military does want and need to recruit soldiers from Islamic and Arab-American background, they have also been fighting decades-long campaign against Islamic groups in Muslim-majority countries, leading to a heightened level of casual and toxic Islamophobia within its ranks, alienating many Muslim Americans who might otherwise consider joining. Soldiers are trained to see brown-skinned Muslims as the enemy, meaning those who join their side are subject to abuse or mockery. Still more of a question for other American Muslims is whether any war, especially these wars are worth fighting and dying for. Considering the dearth of Muslim recruits, It appears that, for many, the answer is “no.”

 
Feature photo | A combination photo shows Affraz Mohammed during his time in the US Marine Corps. Photo | Courtesy | Affraz Mohammed

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Why So Few American Muslims Serve in the US Military appeared first on MintPress News.

Adam Savage Hitches Rickshaw to Four-Legged Spot Robot

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 21/06/2020 - 8:35pm in

This is another video which has absolutely nothing to do with politics, but I’m putting it up simply because it’s fun. In it, Adam Savage, the engineer and Science Fiction fan behind Mythbusters, builds a joint for Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot so he can hitch a rickshaw he built for himself to it. Boston Dynamics have developed a series of robots, some of which are humanoid and bipedal. They produced another quadrupedal robot, Big Dog, as a carrier for the American army. However, the programme was cancelled because the robot’s electric motors produced too much noise for it to be used in combat, as this would have alerted the enemy to the soldiers’ approach.

Savage says of the rickshaw he built, that it was originally going to be very brightly coloured after the Indian vehicles. When he came to build it, it became darker, and much more European so that it had a Steampunk look. Steampunk is the type of Science Fiction that imagines what would have happened if the Victorians had really developed the kind of technology in the early SF of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and had space and time travel and computers. One of the founding books of this genre was William Gibson’s and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, which is set in a Britain where Lord Byron has led a revolution and is now the head of government and Charles Babbage’s pioneering early mechanical computer, the Difference Engine of the title, has been built.

The Spot robot itself is semi-autonomous. As Savage has shown in previous videos, it can be operated by remote control. However, it recognises and avoids obstacles, and so it’s impossible to steer it into a brick wall. It will just stop, or try to go round it. When Savage and two other engineers and technicians are testing how it performs with the rickshaw attached, the robot comes to a halt on a slope. This is because it doesn’t realise that it needs to put in more power to pull the rickshaw up it, and so the two technicians work on its software so that it can correctly assess the force it needs and perform accordingly.

The robot and rickshaw together really do look like something out of Steampunk SF, or the 19th century SF art of the French author, Jacques Robida. Or even a scene from the Star Wars’ galaxy, which similarly mixes high technology – spaceships, robots and landspeeders with very low-tech forms of transport like animals. The fact that this is reality in 2020 shows that we are living in an age of SF.

Adam Savage and Guest Engineer Build Refrigerated Cooling Suit

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/06/2020 - 12:51am in

Adam Savage is a Science Fiction fan and engineer/special effects technician on YouTube. I think he was also one half of Mythbusters, a cable/satellite TV series in which he and his co-host put to the test various popular myths. Such as whether a car door really could shield you from bullets as shown in any number of cop shows and films.

In his YouTube channel, Savage goes off to various SF conventions and gatherings, talking to stars, special effects people and fans. He also builds replica movie props and effects. In this video, he and his guest, biomedical engineer Kipp Bradford, build a refrigerated suit.

Savage says that he’s building it because a few years ago, he went to a convention wearing a replica of the spacesuits worn in the classic SF/horror movie Alien. Wearing its quilted material in such a hot environment, however, nearly gave him heatstroke. He went to another convention after that wearing a copy of the silver space suites from Kubrick’s 2001. This had a type of cooling system built into it to stop him becoming too hot, but it seems to have just circulated water around without being a refrigerator. The refrigerated cooling suit he and Bradford build uses the same kind of technology used in domestic fridges to keep food and drink cool. It works by pumping a refrigerated fluid around which takes heat from the objects to be cooled and radiates it away. In this case, the suit uses a miniature compressor and two heat exchangers. The miniature compressor was made by DARPA for the American armed forces. Nearly two decades ago after Gulf War II the American government called for a similar refrigerated suit to be developed to keep its squaddies cool in the desert heat. The project was abandoned when it was realised that if something went wrong with the suits, the soldiers would be seriously compromised.

The suit the two use for the device is an RAF cooling suit from c. 1975. It’s designed for the British air forces high altitude pilots, and Savage says he picked it up a few years ago at an auction. I have an idea it was a similar suit with tubes for circulating fluid that the costume/make up department of Dr. Who used for the Cybermen seen in the 1980s Peter Davison story Earthshock. 

I don’t think this is something that can be built at home by your average SF fan or DIY enthusiast. Obviously one of the issues is simply getting hold of the components. They mention that one of the compressors is available from a company that will provide single units. All the other companies providing refrigerator components will only supply them in bulk, so unless you order 10,000 of them, they won’t give you anything. They also use a proper, industrial refrigerant as the coolant. There’s a lot of joking about using alcohol, including vodka as the coolant, and they state that this is a viable option. But I really don’t think that is the stuff they eventually use. They do say, on the other hand, that it isn’t the freon used in older fridges in the 1970s, for example, that was one of the gases that put a hole in the ozone layer. That’s been replaced by more ecofriendly chemicals, so that the hole is actually now closing. Which is clearly a win for the environment, even if the planet is still suffering from massive pollution and the destruction of the natural environment and extinction of millions of endangered species.

For all the light, jokey tone, it’s clear that Bradford is an incredibly intelligent man. While Savage jokes that he’s only got honorary degrees, which aren’t worth anything, Bradford has a string of higher qualifications. He’s a biomechanical engineer, who has designed similar cooling units for medevac for injured American troopers.

The two manage to construct a small refrigerator and connect it to the suit. And it works! Through an infrared app on a mobile phone camera they show it lowering Savage’s temperature as he’s wearing it down to quite a cold level. The only drawback for this viewer is that they don’t create any kind of backpack for it enabling Savage to wear it with the suit. Wearing it, Savage remarks that it’s given him an insight into the achievement of the NASA scientists and engineers, who built the spacesuits. Not only did these include similar cooling systems, but they also had to include other vital systems like air.

I found this video particularly interesting as a fan of Dune. In Frank Herbert’s classic novel, the Fremen and other people survive the harsh conditions on the desert planet Arakis by wearing still suits. These reclaim the body’s moisture from sweat and wastes through semi-permeable membranes, treating it so that it becomes drinkable water. Fans of the Australian-American ’90s SF show, Farscape, will also remember the cooling suit worn by the villain Scorpius. Scorpius is half-Skaren, half-Sebatian. The Skarens are tough, reptile-like creatures with a high body temperature and craving for heat. The Sebatians, by contrast, are identical to humans but lack human’s ability to regulate their body temperature. They’re therefore vulnerable to overheating and falling into an incurable coma. In order to stop this, Scorpius wears a refrigerated suit specially designed for him, and has had surgery performed so that he can insert cooling rods into his skull to lower the temperature of his brain. Mercifully, no-one has suggested doing anything like that yet, although some extreme conditions are treated by placing the patient in a coma and lowering their body temperature. This nifty little piece of engineering shows that while we haven’t quite reached the ability to produce a still suit like Dune’s, we’re not far off it.

As you can also see from the video, Kipp Bradford’s Black or mixed-race. There’s a move to make science and engineering more diverse, with more women and Blacks and people from ethnic minorities. I therefore thought the video might also be of interest, as it clearly shows that Blacks are also capable of doing great, awesome science and engineering. Not that there should be any doubt of it. The ‘McCoy’ of the phrase ‘It’s the real McCoy!’, said of any great invention or clever device, was apparently an American naval engineer around about World War II, who became famous for the marvels he could work on board ships.

Where’s Starmer? Labour Should Be Leading the Fight against Racism, Not Johnson

I just caught on the lunchtime news today the announcement that Boris Johnson is going to set up a commission to examine the knotty question of racism in the UK. He said something about how this had to be done because of the way people up and down the country had gathered in mass meetings to protest against it. While it showed that Johnson had been paying attention to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations here, America and across the world, not everyone was convinced that Johnson was entirely serious about his proposal. The Beeb’s report said that he’d been criticised already, as there were existing recommendations made in previous reports which hadn’t been acted upon. The Labour MP David Lammy also appeared to give his tuppence worth. He began by noting that Johnson had provided any specifics about this proposed commission. To me, it looks very much like another typical Tory dodge. Johnson will set up this commission to make it look like he’s really bothered about the issue and understands public concern, while making sure that it doesn’t actually do anything and hope that the matter will go away. I do know some genuinely anti-racist Tories. But the Tory party itself has consistently opposed non-White immigration and parts of it are viciously racist. Like the members of the Tory youth movements, who used to sing ‘We Don’t Want No Blacks and Asians’ to the tune of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, or ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’. The people that Jacobsmates exposed posting violently racist messages on the internet sites for supporters of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg. The people that formulated and backed the Tories ‘hostile environment’ policy, which saw hundreds of people illegally deported. People, who had been granted citizenship and then suddenly found it stripped from them by a racist, duplicitous government.

And you have to wonder where Starmer and Angela Rayner are in all this. So far their response has been very muted. After the protests at George Floyd’s murder broke out, Starmer and Rayner issued a statement last week declaring that they were shocked and angered at the killing. Rayner tweeted that ‘We stand in complete solidarity with those standing up against police brutality towards Black people and systemic racism and oppression across the United States, here in the United Kingdom and across the world.’ But actions speak louder than words, and no, they don’t. The suppressed report into the conspiracies by members of the Blairite faction within the party to unseat Corbyn and his supporters and actually make the party lose elections also revealed how these same plotters racially abused the Black MPs and activists Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler and Clive Lewis. It showed that there was a poisonous culture of anti-Black racism, dubbed Afriphobia, in the party that wasn’t being addressed. As a result, according to the Huffington Post, the Labour Party is haemorrhaging Black members, who say they feel politically homeless.

If Black Lives Matter to Keir Starmer, why hasn’t he acted against Labour’s racists?

Starmer’s response to the toppling of the statue of slaver Edward Colston in Bristol has also been muted. When he was asked by caller Barry Gardiner on LBC radio what his views on it were, Starmer simply replied that it shouldn’t have been done that way, and that he didn’t condone lawlessness. This cut no ice with the mighty Kerry-Ann Mendoza of The Canary, who tweeted that they’d been trying to have it removed legally for the past forty years. As for the Labour party’s attitude to ethnic minorities, she tweeted

The Labour Party is not a safe place for Black people
The Labour Party is not a safe place for Muslims
The Labour Party is not a safe place for anti-zionist Jews
The Labour Party is not a safe place for anti-zionists period
The Labour Party is not a safe place for socialists

Starmer on THAT statue: he thinks there’s a heirarchy of racism, with black people very low down it

Mike in the article above argues quite correctly, in my opinion, that Starmer believes in a hierarchy of racism. He was quick to give his full support to the Zionist Jewish establishment, but has done nothing about the racists persecuting Blacks in the party. This is almost certainly because the persecutors were Blairites like himself, and he doesn’t want to alienate his supporters. At the same time, he is also using the fast-track expulsion process that has been set up to deal with alleged anti-Semites to start throwing out members. This is a real kangaroo court, as those accused are not giving a hearing and have no opportunity to defend themselves. And those expelled naturally include socialists and followers of Jeremy Corbyn, and especially anti-Zionist Jews. Tony Greenstein has written a couple of articles about this already. In an article posted yesterday, Tony describes how Starmer was handed a list in March of the people the woefully misnamed Jewish Labour Movement wanted purged. As the Director of Public Prosecutions, Starmer refused to prosecute the coppers who shot Jean Charles de Menezes, whom they mistook for an Islamist terrorist. He was also not in the least interested in the deaths of Blacks in police custody. His expressed support for Black Lives Matter is hypocritical, as the Zionist movement in America has been doing its level best to destroy and discredit it because BLM has declared that Israel is an apartheid state, and supports the Palestinians. It considers that their condition in Israel is comparable to that of Blacks in America.

https://azvsas.blogspot.com/2020/06/you-cant-be-anti-racist-if-you-are-not.html

Tony has also posted this article about the mass expulsion of anti-Zionist Jews from the Labour party, as well as other, self-respecting anti-racist members.

https://azvsas.blogspot.com/2020/06/starmers-war-on-jews-in-labours.html

Starmer’s reticence on anti-Black racism contrasts very strongly with the party’s direction over the previous forty years. After Thatcher’s election victory in 1979 or so, Labour strongly supported the aspirations of Britain’s Blacks and Asians for equality. The party put forward a new generation of ethnic minority MPs, who strongly articulated the desire for real change. This was extremely controversial – the Tory press blamed the 1981/2 race riots on Black racism and viciously attacked the new Black MPs, like Diane Abbott and Bernie Grant. And, in my opinion, some of them didn’t help. Brent council under Grant was particularly zealous in its determination to root out racism, to the point where it pursued a vigorous policy of censorship from its libraries. A policy that appalled others in the party, who were equally left-wing but less inflexible and intolerant. I’ve heard stories from people, who grew up in the area how extreme Grant could be in his accusations of racism. One of those he accused was the head of a local school, whose wife was Black and who was supposedly a member of the Communist party. In Bristol the five members of Labour’s ‘unofficial’ Black section went off on a trip to Ulster to support the Roman Catholics. They believed that Ulster’s Catholics were a colonised minority like Blacks. They had a point, but this allowed the Tories to paint the party as ‘loony Labour’, inhabited by embittered Communists, who hated Britain and supported the IRA. Nevertheless, it was this period that led to the vital implementation of policies, like ‘positive discrimination’ to improve conditions for Blacks and ethnic minorities. And Labour continued to include anti-racism, or at least anti-racist rhetoric, under Blair. Some Black activists did feel excluded and that Blair was less than serious about these issues. But I can remember Blair praising the example of America’s General Colin Powell, and wishing that Britain could also be a place where Blacks could rise to the highest ranks of the military.

But Starmer seems to be turning his back on all this in his determination to return Labour to the Thatcherite, neoliberal centre ground. It’s the inevitable result of Blairite triangulation. Blair studied what the Tories were doing, and then adopted it and tried to go further. He began in the 1990s by taking over scrapped recommendations for the restructuring of the civil service by Anderson Consulting. He continued the Tory policies of privatisation, including that of the NHS, and the destruction of the welfare state. And some Blairite MPs even began to make the same type of racist recommendations as the Tories. It’s also dangerous, as under Cameron the Tories did try to gain ethnic minority support by embracing Black and Asian community leaders.

Black Lives Matter and the anti-racism movement shouldn’t be above criticism. But Labour should be taking the lead in the debate. Instead, Starmer seems determined to alienate some of the party’s staunchest supporters.

All in the hope of appealing to the Thatcherites and neoliberals.

Channel 4 Programme on the Queen’s Role in the 1953 Coup against Iran’s Mossadeq

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/06/2020 - 11:12pm in

Another interesting programme listed in next week’s Radio Times is Channel 4 documentary on Sunday, 14th June 2020, The Queen and the Coup. This is about how MI6 and the CIA conspired to overthrow Iran’s last democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq, and how the Queen was manipulated by the intelligence agencies as part of it. Mossadeq had committed the crime of nationalising his country’s oil industry, which was owned by the British company Anglo-Persian Oil, which eventually became BP.

The blurb for the programme runs

It’s February 1953, the first anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, but the monarch is unaware that she is about to be deployed in a US plot to topple Iran’s democratic leader in favour of an all-powerful shah. Planned by MI6 and executed by the CIA, the coup destroyed Iran’s democracy and damaged relations between Iran and the West for many decades; this documentary reveals how the truth about the Queen’s role was hidden, even from her.

The piece about it by David Butcher a few pages earlier reads

This is one of those brilliantly detailed documentaries on recent history that uses declassified documents to explore a bizarre and little-known episode.

Professors Rory Cormac and Richard Aldrich have unearthed a paper trail in national archives showing how the 1953 coup d’etat to unseat Iran’s elected leader (Mohammed Mossadeq, whose crime had been to national British oil assets) relied at a crucial moment on using the young Queen Elizabeth’s name – unbeknownst to her.

It’s a fascinating, at times farcical yarn of MI6 and CIA intrigue, and the events had a huge effect on global politics; relations between Iran and the West never recovered.

The programme’s on at 9.00 pm.

Historians have known about the 1953 coup against Mossadeq for some time. The parapolitics/conspiracies magazine Lobster has published articles about it. I’ve posted pieces about it on this blog. However, it’s been largely ignored by the establishment because it is a real, genuine government conspiracy of the type that Britain and the US supposedly don’t commit. Lobster has been lamenting for decades how the majority of historians don’t take seriously the existence of real conspiracies committed by covert governmental, political or industrial groups as it contradicts the accepted idea of how politics operates and is conducted.

One of the presenters, Rory Cormac, is the author of a book on British official conspiracies and plots, Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces, and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy (Oxford: OUP 2018). This revealed how the British government, armed forces and intelligence agencies had secretly conspired and interfered in countries right across the globe from Northern Ireland in Britain itself, to Africa, Indonesia and elsewhere, removing leaders, rigging elections and overthrowing regimes that were an obstacle to British foreign policy. One of those countries was Iran, and the anti-Mossadeq coup is discussed in Chapter 5, ‘Operation Boot: Regime Change in Iran.’

This is all historical fact. But the coup was authorized and supporter by Boris’ hero, Winston Churchill. I wonder what the reaction of the Tory press to it will be? Assuming they deign to notice, of course.

Trump Blames Imaginary Far Left Conspiracy and the Press for BLM Protests and Riots

Someone really, really should take Trump’s phone away from him and shut down his personal internet connections. He really has no idea how to calm things down. His idea of pouring oil on troubled waters is to throw petrol onto fire. He didn’t address the American people about the crisis that has engulfed his country after former police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd by asphyxiation by kneeling on his neck. Instead he tweeted ill-chosen comments about shooting looters. Then his bodyguards rushed him to a ‘special secure bunker’ in case the crowd outside the White House tried to storm it.

As Mike has shown in his article about the incident, quite a few of the peeps on Twitter also drew comparisons between Trump, and a couple of other people with extreme right-wing beliefs, who also went into hiding. Like a certain A. Hitler, who likewise hid in a bunker, and our own Boris Johnson, who ran away from awkward media questions in a fridge.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/06/01/trump-hides-in-a-bunker-while-us-descends-into-chaos-over-george-floyd-killing/

Now he’s made more inflammatory texts, blaming the disturbances on a ‘far-left’ conspiracy and stating it seems that this is concert with the lamestream media. Other far right nutters, like Andy Ngo of The Spectator USA, have also claimed that this is some kind of revolution that the far left has been preparing for years. According to today’s I, Trump tweeted about the rioting in New York, “New York was lost to the looters, thugs, Radical Left & Scum. The Governor refuses to accept my offer of a dominating National Guard. NYC was ripped to pieces.” New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, said that he was not going to use the National Guard, as when forces not trained to handle New York City crowds intervene, ‘still with loaded weapons and under stress, horrible things happen.’ Some of this reluctance may come from the memories of the 1968 race riots and the shooting of four people at Ohio University by the National Guard, called in by Richard Nixon.

I doubt very, very much that there’s any far left conspiracy behind the protests and rioting. The issue of police brutality towards Blacks, and the unprovoked killing of unarmed Black people by the cops has been simmering away for the past few years or so. It’s what Black Lives Matter was formed to protest. And underneath that are the continuing problems of racism, poverty and poor Black academic achievement in schools. Only a few years ago Barak Obama was being lauded for winning the race to the White House and becoming America’s first Black president. The country, it was said, had now entered a ‘post-racial’ age. In fact, the divisions remained under Obama. Things were undoubtedly better under him for most Americans than if the Republicans had won, but Obama was a corporatist Democrat. He described himself as a ‘moderate Republican’, and so the neoliberal policies that have created so much poverty in America and round the globe, continued. American jobs went overseas and Obama went ahead with trying to close down America’s public (state) school system by transforming them into Charter Schools, the equivalent of the privately run state academies over here. Their transformation is often against the wishes of parents, teachers and the wider community. But the privatisation was still pushed, and is still being pushed by Trump. Welfare is being cut, and wages for ordinary Americans, of whatever colour, have remained stagnant for years. If they haven’t actually fallen in real terms, that is.

America has also become more racist as the trade unions and old industries, which employed both Whites and Blacks and brought people of different races together were smashed. It’s created a more atomised and racially segregated society. The old forms of community which crossed racial barriers have declined partly due to the ‘White flight’ which saw White people migrate away from the inner city towards the suburbs. The book attacking the Neocons and their toxic policies, Confronting the New Conservatism, argued that this is what fueled the rise of George Dubya Bush’s administration. And the same processes are at work in Britain too. Hence the victories of the Tories over here, the disproportionate numbers of British Blacks and Asians dying from the Coronavirus, and the consequent Black anti-racist protests in Britain.

There might be some extreme left-wing malcontents stirring the crowds up. I remember during the race riots that hit St Paul’s in Bristol in the early 1980s a White man with a long, grey beard hanging around the school gates with a megaphone as we went home. He was haranguing us, trying to get us to join the rioting. I didn’t realise it at the time, but thinking about it, it seems to me very likely he was from the Socialist Workers Party or similar far left organisation. They have a reputation for joining any kind of protest and trying to radicalize it or exacerbate the problem. But the SWP in Britain was and is miniscule. They’ve been criticised by their left-wing opponents because they don’t ever start protests, they merely colonise those of others. The riots in St. Paul’s started over heavy-handed policing, and specifically a raid on the Black and White Cafe, which had a reputation for drug dealing. The underlying grievances were the same then – racism, unemployment and poverty. The SWP, Workers’ Revolutionary Party, British Communist Party or any other radical left group weren’t behind the riots then, whatever White guys with megaphones may have tried to do. They aren’t behind the protests and riots in America now.

There is no far left conspiracy at work here. Just poverty and despair caused by four decades of neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, Reaganomics, Thatcherism and just plain, old Conservatism. Tackling the protests will mean not only tackling racism, but also the economic and social grievances underneath them. Grievances that the Conservatives and Republicans exploit to bolster their own horrific policies.

If we want to create a better society for everyone, regardless of their colour, it means getting rid of Conservative policies as well as stopping the police from killing people.

And in the meantime, Trump should also stop making things worse with his stupid Tweets.

80s Space Comedy From Two of the Goodies

Astronauts, written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, 13 episodes of 25 minutes in length. First Broadcast ITV 1981 and 1983.

I hope everyone had a great Bank Holiday Monday yesterday, and Dominic Cummings’ hypocritical refusal to resign after repeatedly and flagrantly breaking the lockdown rules aren’t getting everyone too down. And now, for the SF fans, is something completely different as Monty Python used to say.

Astronauts was a low budget ITV sitcom from the very early ’80s. It was written by the two Goodies responsible for writing the scripts for their show, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and based on the personal conflicts and squabbling of the American astronauts on the Skylab programme six years earlier. It was about three British astronauts, RAF officer, mission commander and pilot Malcolm Mattocks, chippy, left-wing working-class engineer David Ackroyd, coolly intellectual biologist Gentian Fraser,and their dog, Bimbo,  who are launched into space as the crew of the first all-British space station. Overseeing the mission is their American ground controller Lloyd Beadle. Although now largely forgotten, the show lasted two seasons, and there must have been some continuing demand for it, because it’s been released nearly forty years later as a DVD. Though not in such demand that I didn’t find it in DVD/CD bargain catalogue.

Low Budget

The show’s very low budget. Lower than the Beeb’s Blake’s 7, which often cited as an example of low budget British science fiction. There’s only one model used, that of their space station, which is very much like the factual Skylab. The shots of their spacecraft taking off are stock footage of a Saturn V launch, the giant rockets used in the Moon landings and for Skylab. There also seems to be only one special effects sequence in the show’s entire run, apart from outside shots. That’s when an accident causes the station to move disastrously out of its orbit, losing gravity as it does so. Cheap matte/ Chromakey effects are used to show Mattocks rising horizontally from his bunk, where he’s been lying, while Bimbo floats through the bedroom door.

Class in Astronauts and Red Dwarf

It’s hard not to compare it with the later, rather more spectacular Red Dwarf, which appeared in 1986, three years after Astronaut’s last season. Both shows centre around a restricted regular cast. In Red Dwarf this was initially just Lister, Holly and the Cat before the appearance of Kryten. Much of the comedy in Red Dwarf is also driven by their similar situation to their counterparts in Astronauts – personality clashes in the cramped, isolated environment of a spacecraft. The two shows are also similar in that part of this conflict from class and a Conservative military type versus working class cynic/ liberal. In Red Dwarf it’s Rimmer as the Conservative militarist, while Lister is the working class rebel. In Astronauts the military man is Mattocks, a patriotic RAF pilot, while Ackroyd, the engineer, is left-wing, Green, and affects to be working class. The three Astronauts also debate the class issue, accusing each other of being posh before establishing each other’s place in the class hierarchy. Mattocks is posh, but not as posh as Foster. Foster’s working class credentials are, however, destroyed during an on-air phone call with his mother, who is very definitely middle or upper class, and talks about going to the Conservative club. In this conflict, it’s hard not to see a similarity with the Goodies and the conflict there between the Conservative screen persona of Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie’s left-wing, working class character.

Class, however, plays a much smaller role in Red Dwarf. Lister is more underclass than working class, and the show, set further in the future, has less overt references to contemporary class divisions and politics. The humour in Red Dwarf is also somewhat bleaker. The crew are alone three million years in the future, with the human race vanished or extinct with the exception of Lister. Rimmer is an ambitious failure. For all he dreams of being an officer, he has failed the exam multiple times and the B.Sc he claims is Batchelor of Science is really BSC – Bronze Swimming Certificate. Both he and Lister are at the lowest peg of the ship’s hierarchy in Red Dwarf. They’re maintenance engineers, whose chief duties is unblocking the nozzles of vending machines. Lister’s background is rough. Very rough. While others went scrumping for apples, he and his friends went scrumping for cars. The only famous person in his class was a man who ate his wife. The three heroes of Astronauts, however, are all competent, intelligent professionals despite their bickering. Another difference is that while both series have characters riddled with self-loathing, in Red Dwarf it’s the would-be officer Rimmer, while in Astronauts is working class engineer Ackroyd.

Britain Lagging Behind in Space

Other issues in Astronauts include Britain’s low status as a space power. In a speech in the first episode, the crew express their pride at being the first British mission, while paying tribute to their American predecessors in the Apollo missions. The Ealing comedy The Mouse on the Moon did something similar. And yet Britain at the time had been the third space power. Only a few years before, the British rocket Black Arrow had been successfully launched from Woomera in Australia, successfully taking a British satellite into orbit.

Personal Conflicts

There are also conflicts over the cleaning and ship maintenance duties, personal taste in music – Mattocks irritates Ackroyd by playing Tubular Bells, publicity or lack of it – in one episode, the crew are annoyed because it seems the media back on Earth have forgotten them – and disgust at the limited menu. Mattocks is also shocked to find that Foster has been killing and dissecting the mice he’s been playing with, and is afraid that she’ll do it to the dog. Sexism and sexual tension also rear their heads. Mattocks fancies Foster, but Ackroyd doesn’t, leading to further conflict between them and her. Foster, who naturally wants to be seen as an equal and ‘one of the boys’ tries to stop this by embarrassing them. She cuts her crew uniform into a bikini and then dances erotically in front of the two men, before jumping on them both crying ‘I’ll have both of you!’ This does the job, and shames them, but Beadle, watching them gets a bit too taken with the display, shouting ‘Work it! Work it! Boy! I wish I was up there with you boys!’ Foster also objects to Mattocks because he doesn’t help his wife, Valerie, out with the domestic chores at home. Mattocks also suspects that his wife is having an affair, which she is, in a sort-of relationship with Beadle. There’s also a dig at the attitudes of some magazines. In the press conference before the three go on their mission, Foster is asked by Woman’s Own if she’s going to do any cooking and cleaning in space. Beadle and his team reply that she’s a highly trained specialist no different from the men. The joke’s interesting because in this case the butt of the humour is the sexism in a certain type of women’s magazine, rather than chauvinist male attitudes.

Cold War Espionage

Other subjects include the tense geopolitical situation of the time. Mattocks is revealed to have been running a secret espionage programme, photographing Russian bases as the station flies over them in its orbit. The others object, and Ackroyd is finally able to persuade Beadle to allow them to use the technology to photograph illegal Russian whaling in the Pacific. This is used to embarrass the Russians at an international summit, but the questions about the origin of the photos leads to the espionage programme being abandoned. The crew also catch sight of a mysterious spacecraft in the same orbit, and start receiving communications in a strange language. After initially considering that it just might be UFOs, it’s revealed that they do, in fact, come from a lonely Russian cosmonaut. Foster speaks Russian, and starts up a friendship. When Mattocks finds out, he is first very suspicious, but then after speaking to the Russian in English, he too becomes friends. He’s the most affected when the Russian is killed after his craft’s orbit decays and burns up re-entering the atmosphere.

Soft Drink Sponsorship

There are also digs at commercial sponsorship. The mission is sponsored by Ribozade, whose name is a portmanteau of the British drinks Ribeena and Lucozade. Ribozade tastes foul, but the crew nevertheless have it on board and must keep drinking it. This is not Science Fiction. One of the American missions was sponsored by Coca Cola, I believe, and so one of the space stations had a Coke machine on board. And when Helen Sharman went into space later in the decade aboard a Russian rocket to the space station Mir, she was originally to be sponsored by Mars and other British companies.

God, Philosophy and Nicholas Parsons

The show also includes arguments over the existence or not of the Almighty. Mattocks believes He exists, and has shown His special favour to them by guiding his hand in an earlier crisis. Mattocks was able to save them, despite having no idea what he was doing. Ackroyd, the sceptic, replies that he can’t say the Lord doesn’t exist, but can’t see how God could possibly create Nicholas Parsons and Sale of the Century, one of the popular game shows on ITV at the time, if He did. As Mattocks is supposed to be guiding them down from orbit, his admission that he really didn’t know what he was doing to rescue the station naturally alarms Foster and Ackroyd so that they don’t trust his ability to get them down intact.

Red Dwarf also has its jokes about contemporary issues and politics. Two of the most memorable are about the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer being covered with a gigantic toupee, and the despair squid, whose ink causes its prey to become suicidal and which has thus destroyed all other life on its world in the episode ‘Back to Reality’. Other jokes include everyone knowing where they were when Cliff Richard got shot. Red Dwarf, however, is much more fantastic and goes further in dealing with philosophical issues, such as when Rimmer is incarcerated in a space prison where justice is definitely retributive. If you do something illegal, it comes back to happen to you. This is demonstrated when Lister follows Rimmer’s instruction and tries to set his sheets alight. He shortly finds that his own black leather jacket has caught fire.

Conclusion

Red Dwarf is able to go much further in exploring these and other bizarre scenarios as it’s definitely Science Fiction. Astronauts is, I would argue, space fiction without the SF. It’s fictional, but based solidly on fact, including generating gravity through centrifugal force. But critically for any comedy is the question whether its funny. Everyone’s taste is different, but in my opinion, yes, Astronauts is. It’s dated and very much of its time, but the humour still stands up four decades later. It had me laughing at any rate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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